Event center dies and council gets a new face

City voters resoundingly rejected a quarter-cent sales tax increase to fund an event center by a nearly 3-to-1 margin Tuesday, yet failed to re-elect the only candidate who shared their view on the measure.

Of the six candidates in contested races, incumbent Marty Chazen was the lone outspoken critic of the event center, but he lost to Duke Wortmann — an event center supporter — in the election’s closest race.

Incumbents Phyllis Norris and Rick Taggart, who also voiced support for the event center, retained their seats on the City Council. So the measure failed, but voters elected a slate of candidates whose vision for the city may resuscitate the idea down the road.

We certainly hope so. For now, the City Council has a clear mandate to move on to other pressing matters. One of them, ironically, will be what to do with the aging Two Rivers Convention Center.

But the council won’t have to worry about where to find the money to get the city’s roads up to par. Voters easily passed Referred Measure 2B, extending repayment of the debt on Riverside Parkway for three years to free up money to fund road maintenance. It’s put the city on a path of reaching a point of premium cost efficiency: keeping good roads in good shape. Voters are to be commended for their fiscal prudence. Putting the city’s repair schedule on hold would have generated costs that would have exceeded the savings from retiring the parkway debt early.

For the most part, voters stuck with tradition — rejecting a tax hike, but allowing the city to get creative with TABOR override money earmarked for a very specific purpose. On that count, we’re not surprised that the $60 million event center measure failed, but we hope that the idea doesn’t die altogether.

Acceptance for these kinds of efforts can grow with time and careful explanation of the benefits. That doesn’t help with the short-term pain of losing out on the minor league hockey team that wanted to be an anchor tenant of the event center, or the two downtown hotels that would have been built if the measure had passed. But Rome wasn’t built in a day and there are other things happening in the vicinity of downtown and the riverfront that may grease the skids for further consideration of an event center.

Perhaps Tuesday’s biggest surprise was Chazen’s defeat. He’s a fiscal conservative who made his reputation as a budget hawk by questioning whether the city could afford anything but the most basic services. Wortmann’s more optimistic vision apparently resonated with voters, which we take as a hopeful sign that attitudes about the role of local government are changing.

Still, we thank Chazen for his service. We also thank Jesse Daniels and Lincoln Pierce for giving voters a choice in these races. We congratulate Wortmann, Taggart, Norris and Duncan McArthur (who ran unopposed) for their victories and look forward to the ideas they’ll bring to the table over the next four years.


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